🏞️ Bisses of Western French-speaking in 2020

Introduction


In this article, la Torpille presents many beautiful and relatively easy rides along the bisses of Valais in the French-speaking or Western Switzerland.

Bisses


Définition


A bisse is an irrigation canal, generally 5 to 10 kilometres long, taking its water from a torrent or small river at the bottom of a side valley resulting from the melting of glaciers. Its purpose is to supply water to various crops, orchards, vineyards or simply meadows for fodder.
The longest bisse in the Valais is the Bisse de Saxon with an impressive length of 28 km.

An example of a bisse in the forest, here the bisse de Déjore in Savièse.
An example of a bisse in the forest, here the bisse de Déjore in Savièse.

Purpose of the bisses


Until the beginning of the 20th century, Valais was a region that lived mainly a pastoral life, i.e. with mainly peasant inhabitants who lived independently. This way of life required different crops and livestock and therefore a need for water.

However, some regions, mainly on the slopes of the Rhone valley or in the transverse valleys, suffer from a relatively dry climate and especially a lack of water in summer after the snow melts. It is therefore vital to provide water with the help of bisses. At the beginning of the 20th century, more than 200 of them were in use in Valais.

Nice map at the Valaisan Bisses Museum which shows the density of the bisses on the slopes of the Rhone Valley which are not naturally supplied with water in summer.
Nice map at the Valaisan Bisses Museum which shows the density of the bisses on the slopes of the Rhone Valley which are not naturally supplied with water in summer.

First bisses


Les premiers bisses sont particulièrement anciens puisqu’ils sont construits au Moyen Âge dès le 13e et 14e siècle et même peut-être avant. Le dernier à être construit est le bisse du Trient en 1895.

The bisse Vieux in Nendaz dates from the 14th century.
The bisse Vieux in Nendaz dates from the 14th century.

Abandonment of the bisses


From the middle of the 20th century, crops on the slopes of the Valais disappeared very quickly with the progress of technological and communication means, only the vineyard still exists today and very few bisses still have an irrigation function. In the Rhone Valley, orchards and some crops still exist today because of the favourable terrain.

The disappearance of bisses is due to the following reasons:

  • Tunnel bores through the rock to bring water in by gravity. Example: Bisse of Torrent-Neuf.
  • Abandonment of crops requiring water with the appearance of foreign fruits and vegetables. The spaces used by crops in the past are often now used by chalets. This is the typical case in Nendaz, Savièse and Crans-Montana.
  • Construction of pipes bringing water with pumps to save money. Indeed, the maintenance of a bisse was particularly expensive and sometimes even very dangerous when the bisse ran along rocky walls.

The many chalets of Nendaz are built on old crops and orchards.
The many chalets of Nendaz are built on old crops and orchards.

Renovation of bisses


The municipalities of Valais understood the tourist attraction that can be generated by the bisses during the off-peak period of the summer and so, since the end of the 1990s, many bisses have been rehabilitated and put back into water during the summer.

The bisse of Trient renovated in 1986.
The bisse of Trient renovated in 1986.

Path of a bisse


Most of the time, the path of a bisse is a low gradient in order to limit gullying by the watercourse and thus simplify its maintenance. It is still necessary to have a minimum slope, otherwise the water may overflow the channel and the particles falling into the weir cannot be evacuated properly and may end up clogging the channel.

A bisse that marks a steep slope in a very rare way, here the bisse des Ravines. To avoid gullying, the weisse had to be channelled in wood and mark several waterfalls to break the force of the water.
A bisse that marks a steep slope in a very rare way, here the bisse des Ravines.

Bisses and walks


The gentle slope of a bisse which resembles a false flat rising or falling will please the walker by offering him/her a pleasant stroll. The tourist attraction has given a second life to the bisses, which are now maintained by non-profit associations or the communes on which they run.

Crans-Montana is a commune which puts forward its bisses for summer walks such as the magnificent bisse du Rho.
Crans-Montana is a commune which puts forward its bisses for summer walks such as the magnificent bisse du Rho.

Types of bisses


3 types of bisses can be found depending on the configuration of the ground.

  1. Channel dug in the ground
  2. Channel cut in the rock
  3. Hanging channel

A didactic panel at the bisse of Torrent-Neuf showing a view of the three types of bisses.
A didactic panel at the bisse of Torrent-Neuf showing a view of the three types of bisses.

Channel dug into the earth

This is the easiest type of canal to build and the most common.

The bisse of Tsampé goes through the forest of Savièse.
The bisse of Tsampé goes through the forest of Savièse.

Channel cut in the rock

When the bisse had to cross a rock face, one way to do it was to cut the inside of the rock.

The cliff walls cut to let the bisse du Rho flow at Crans-Montana.
The cliff walls cut to let the bisse du Rho flow at Crans-Montana.

Hanging channel

This is the most impressive piping system! The bisse is suspended in the void and the water circulates in wooden channels anchored to the rock by boutzets.

A reconstruction of a bisse suspended at the bisse of Torrent-Neuf.
A reconstruction of a bisse suspended at the bisse of Torrent-Neuf.

Maintenance of bisses


Keeper

The bisse keeper was an important person who was in charge of checking that the Bisse flowed properly and that the water was distributed to the rightful owners.

Hut

It is a small hut where the keeper stores his tools, there may even be a small room in some cases.

The reconstruction of a keeper’s hut at the Valais Bisse Museum.
The reconstruction of a keeper's hut at the Valais Bisse Museum.

Tools

Some of the following tools are used to maintain the bisse:

  • The “serpette”. To cut grass and branches along the bisse.
  • The “larron”. Curved fork to take the plants out of the bisse.
  • The “pic”. Tool resembling a pickaxe.

Hammer

It is an equipment resembling a paddle wheel connected to a hammer which, by striking more or less quickly, warns the keeper about the flow of the bisse.

A nice hammer at the Ravines’ bisse above Bruson. The water-driven wheel activates the black rod which acts as a hammer by striking a metal coin which makes a noise. The rhythm of the noise, more or less fast, allows the keeper to be aware of the flow of the bisse.
A nice hammer at the Ravines' bisse above Bruson. The water-driven wheel activates the black rod which acts as a hammer by striking a metal coin which makes a noise.

Doors

The doors along the side of the channel allow the water to exit at the desired location when lowered.

A door along the bisse du Rho. Raising the door by means of a screw allows the water to come out of the bisse.
 A door along the bisse du Rho. Raising the door by means of a screw allows the water to come out of the bisse.

Water Sharing


The sharing of water was highly regulated and often marked on wooden supports. Each family could have access to water at pre-arranged times and was also required to participate in maintenance work.

Bisses of Valais


La Torpille presents in this article the most beautiful walks along the bisses of Valais. As a reminder, La Torpille always visits at least once all the attractions it offers. The comments do not come from “copy and paste” taken from another site but from the feeling of the Torpedo during its visit on site. We invite you to trust us on Facebook by liking our page.

The list of the 14 bisses visited by la Torpille is the following:

  1. Monthey region: 0
  2. Saint-Maurice region: 0
  3. Martigny region: 2
    • Bisse of Trient
    • Vieux Bisse
  4. Entremont region: 2
    • Bisse des Ravines
    • Vieux of Champex-Lac
  5. Conthey region : 3
    • Bisse du Poteu
    • Bisse Vieux
    • Bisse du Milieu
  6. Sion region: 5
    • Bisse of Savièse
    • Bisse du Tsampé
    • Bisse de Déjore
    • Bisse of Mont d’Orge ⚠️
    • Bisse Siphon
  7. Sierre region: 2
    • Bisse des Miriouges
    • Vieux du Rho ⚠️
  8. Hérens region: 0

⚠️: requires special attention for small children.

The canton of Valais districts. 8 are in the french-speaking part of Switzerland, 5 in the german-speaking part. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The canton of Valais districts.

The flag of Valais has a star for each of the thirteen districts. Valais became part of the Swiss Confederation after the Congress of Vienna in 1815. A few years earlier, it had been annexed by Napoleon under the name of the Department of Simplon.
The flag of Valais has a star for each of the thirteen districts.

Legend:

  • 📍 Starting point of the walk.
  • 🏆 Beauty of the route expressed with 1,2 or 3 stars.
  • 📏 Total distance of the route.
  • 🏞️ Distance along the open-air bisse. The bisses of Rho and Savièse follow with their path the course of the old bisse.
  • 🔁 Does the course make a loop?
  • ⌛ Total journey time without the breaks.
  • 🏗️ Date on which the construction of the bisse began.
  • 📐 Positive difference in height on the course.
  • 🏔️ Min and max altitudes along the course.
  • 💧 Origin of the water of the bisse.
  • 👁️ Viewpoints along the course.
  • 📌 Curiosities that can be seen along the way.

Monthey region


There is no bisse in the district of Monthey.

The Monthey district. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The Monthey district.

Saint-Maurice region


There is no bisse in the district of Saint-Maurice.

The Saint-Maurice district. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The Saint-Maurice district.

Martigny region


  1. Bisse of Trient
  2. Vieux Bisse

The Martigny district. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The Martigny district

Bisse of Trient


The bisse of Trient is a bisse that brought water from the Trient glacier to the Col de la Forlcaz to irrigate the combe de Martigny. When it was created in 1895, the bisse followed a track equipped with rails on which horses pulled wagons filled with ice extracted from the Trient glacier. The glacier was much longer at that time and went down almost as far as the Trient refreshment bar, which marks the end of the outward journey.

  • 🔗 Link: Bisse of Trient
  • 📍 Location: Trient (Col de la Forclaz)
  • 🏆 Interest: ⭐⭐
  • 📏 Total length: 6.5 km
  • 🏞️ Bisse length:
  • 🔁 Loop: ❌
  • ⌛ Time: 2 h
  • 🏗️ Construction: 1895
  • 📐 Positive altitude difference: 99 m
  • 🏔️ Min/max altitude: 1527/1582 m
  • 💧 Water Intake: Trient
  • 👁️ View: Mountain, glacier, village and river of Trient
  • 📌 Curiosities: Buvette du glacier, history of ice mining

The course.

The bisse of Trient is piped in wooden channels.
The bisse of Trient is piped in wooden channels.

Viewpoint on the Trient glacier before arriving at the glacier refreshment bar (buvette du glacier).
Viewpoint on the Trient glacier before arriving at the glacier refreshment bar (buvette du glacier).

A video report on the bisse of Trient.

Vieux bisse


The Vieux bisse is located in the Tzoumaz station above Riddes. It is a short walk mainly in the chalets of the village with a view over the valley of the Fare. The bisse is not necessarily in water and rather badly maintained.

  • 🔗 Link: Vieux bisse
  • 📍 Location: La Tzoumaz (Riddes)
  • 🏆 Interest: ⭐
  • 📏 Total length: 4.1 km
  • 🏞️ Bisse length: 0.7 km
  • 🔁 Loop: ✔️
  • ⌛ Time: 1h 30 min
  • 🏗️ Construction: ?
  • 📐 Positive altitude difference: 160 m
  • 🏔️ Min/max altitude: 1520/1640 m
  • 💧 Water Intake: Le Torrent Creux
  • 👁️ View: Fare Valley, Chamoson, Isérables (villages), Le Fou, Mont Rogneux, Mont-Gelé (Mountains)
  • 📌 Curiosity: Tzoumaz chalets

The course.

The Vieux bisse in a meadow of la Tzoumaz.
The Vieux bisse in a meadow of la Tzoumaz.

Viewpoint on the valley of the Fare with Isérables in front of the Tzoumaz and the Rhone valley with Chamoson.
 Viewpoint on the valley of the Fare with Isérables in front of the Tzoumaz and the Rhone valley with Chamoson.

Entremont region


  1. Bisse des Ravines
  2. Bisse de Champex-Lac

Le district d’Entremont. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
district d'entremont

Bisse des Ravines


The Bisse des Ravines is located above Bruson in the Val de Bagnes opposite Verbier. It runs through a beautiful forest and is particularly well maintained. It allows you to see a beautiful waterfall and an old cable car that was used to transport military equipment to higher altitudes in the middle of the 20th century.

  • 🔗 Link: Bisse des Ravines
  • 📍 Location: Bruson (Val de Bagnes)
  • 🏆 Interest: ⭐⭐
  • 📏 Total length: 5.2 km
  • 🔁 Loop: ❌
  • ⌛ Time: 2 h
  • 🏗️ Construction: 1909
  • 📐 Positive altitude difference: 184 m
  • 🏔️ Min/max altitude: 1118/1258 m
  • 💧 Water Intake: Torrent de Versegères
  • 👁️ View: Bagnes Valley, Verbier
  • 📌 Curiosities: Bisse waterfall, Old cable car

The course.

The bisse des Ravines piped in wooden channels.
The bisse des Ravines piped in wooden channels.

Viewpoint over the Val de Bagnes and Verbier from the magnificent picnic area halfway along the route.
Viewpoint over the Val de Bagnes and Verbier from the magnificent picnic area halfway along the route.

A video about the bisse des Ravines.

Bisse of Champex-Lac


The bisse of Champex-Lac, also known as the bisse du val d’Arpette or bisse du petit ruisseau, allows you to take a pleasant stroll in the forest of Lake Champex to the tumultuous torrent of the Durnand d’Arpette river.

  • 🔗 Link: Bisse of Champex-Lac
  • 📍 Location: Champex-Lac
  • 🏆 Interest: ⭐
  • 📏 Total length: 4 km
  • 🔁 Loop: ✔️
  • ⌛ Time: 1 h 30 min
  • 🏗️ Construction: 1909
  • 📐 Positive altitude difference: 160 m
  • 🏔️ Min/max altitude: 1468 m/1625 m
  • 💧 Water Intake: Durnand d’Arpette River
  • 👁️ View: Catogne mountain
  • 📌 Curiosities: Durnand d’Arpette River, Relais d’Arpette Restaurant, Champex-Lac Lake

The course.

The bisse of Champex-Lac.
The bisse of Champex-Lac.

Viewpoint from the bisse of Champex-Lac with the Catogne on the right.
Viewpoint from the bisse of Champex-Lac with the Catogne on the right.

A video on the course along the bisse du Petit Ruisseau.

Conthey region


  1. Bisse du Poteu
  2. Bisse Vieux et bisse du Milieu

Le district de Conthey. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
district de conthey

Bisse of Poteu


The bisse du Poteu is part of a short walk in the heights of Chamoson. The part along the bisse is very short however, the path takes a nice forest along the Losentse.

  • 🔗 Link: Bisse du Poteu
  • 📍 Location: Chamoson
  • 🏆 Interest: ⭐
  • 📏 Total length: 1.9 km
  • 🏞️ Bisse length: 0.6 km
  • 🔁 Loop: ✔️
  • ⌛ Time: 45 min
  • 🏗️ Construction: 19e siècle
  • 📐 Positive altitude difference: 50 m
  • 🏔️ Min/max altitude: 767/717 m
  • 💧 Water Intake: Torrent de Cry
  • 👁️ View: None
  • 📌 Curiosity: Losentse River

The course.

The bisse du Poteu.
The bisse du Poteu.

Viewpoint on the southern slope of the Rhone valley with the region of Nendaz and the transverse valleys of Nendaz and Fare.
Viewpoint on the southern slope of the Rhone valley with the region of Nendaz and the transverse valleys of Nendaz and Fare.

Bisse Vieux et bisse du Milieu


The bisse Vieux and the bisse du Milieu are two bisses mainly in the forest in the region of Nendaz and its valley. The path that runs through them in the form of a loop allows you to enjoy beautiful views.

  • 🔗 Link: Bisse Vieux and Bisse du Milieu
  • 📍 Location: Nendaz
  • 🏆 Interest: ⭐⭐
  • 📏 Total length: 12.2 km
  • 🏞️ Bisse length: 5.3 km (Vieux) 3.7 km (Milieu)
  • 🔁 Loop: ✔️
  • ⌛ Time: 3 h 30 min
  • 🏗️ Construction: 17e siècle
  • 📐 Positive altitude difference: 200 m
  • 🏔️ Min/max altitude: 1342/1549 m
  • 💧 Water Intake: Printse River
  • 👁️ View: Rhône Valley, Nendaz Valley, Nendaz, Cleuson Dam
  • 📌 Curiosities: Printse River, Bisse Vieux sculpture

The course.

A wooden sculpture along the bisse Vieux.
A wooden sculpture along the bisse Vieux.

Viewpoint over the valley of Nendaz and the Rhone valley under a stormy sky.
Viewpoint over the valley of Nendaz and the Rhone valley under a stormy sky.

A video on the bisse Vieux and the bisse du Milieu.

Sion region


  1. Bisse de Savièse
  2. Bisse du Tsanpé et bisse du Déjore
  3. Bisse de Mont d’Orge et bisse Siphon

Le district de Sion. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
district de sion

Bisse of Savièse


The bisse du Torrent-Neuf, often known more simply as the bisse de Savièse, is the most impressive bisse in the Valais thanks to the restoration work carried out in 2005. In order to irrigate the commune of Savièse, the bisse had to meander along vertical rock faces.

In contrast to the vast majority of the bisse in water during the summer, the Torrent-Neuf bisse is only in water on very small sections. The visitor will be able to admire the reconstitution of suspended bisses with four magnificent metal footbridges of almost 100 metres each. Didactic panels and curiosities are scattered along the path between the Vouasseurs and Brac refreshment bars.

Finally, one can note that all the path is well secured.

  • 🔗 Link: Bisse of Savièse
  • 📍 Location: Savièse
  • 🏆 Interest: ⭐⭐⭐
  • 📏 Total length: 8.8 km
  • 🔁 Loop: ❌
  • ⌛ Time: 2 h 30
  • 🏗️ Construction: 15e siècle
  • 📐 Positive altitude difference: 235 m
  • 🏔️ Min/max altitude:1125/1202 m
  • 💧 Water Intake: Morge River
  • 👁️ View: Morge Valley, Rhône Valleyx
  • 📌 Curiosities: Buvettes, didactic path, suspended bridges, chapels

The course.

A passage along the cliff.
A passage along the cliff. bisse of saviese

Viewpoint on the top of the Morge valley from a footbridge.
Viewpoint on the top of the Morge valley from a footbridge.

Bisse du Tsampé and bisse du Déjore


The bisse du Tsampé and Déjore are two bisses on the heights of Savièse. They run in the form of a loop. They make it possible to benefit from a pretty place of picnic at its departure at the level of the Rochés pond with a pretty sight on the valley of Hérens and the Dent Blanche. It should be noted that the distance along the bisses is relatively short.

  • 🔗 Link: Bisse du Tsampé and bisse du Déjore
  • 📍 Location: Crans-Montana
  • 🏆 Interest: ⭐
  • 📏 Total length: 4.5 km
  • 🏞️ Bisse length: 0.8 km (Tsanpé) 1.0 km (Déjore)
  • 🔁 Loop: ✔️
  • ⌛ Time:  1 h 30 min
  • 🏗️ Construction: 14e siècle
  • 📐 Positive altitude difference: 140 m
  • 🏔️ Min/max altitude: 1011/1137 m
  • 💧 Water Intake: Drahin River
  • 👁️ View: Rhône Valley, Hérens Valley, Dent Blanche
  • 📌 Curiosity: Rochés Pond

The course.

Bisse du Tsampé in the forest.
Bisse du Tsampé in the forest.

Viewpoint on the Val d’Hérens and the Dent Blanche.
Viewpoint on the Val d'Hérens and the Dent Blanche.

A video on the course of the bisses of Tsampé and Déjore.

Bisse of Mont d’Orge et bisse Siphon


The bisse de Mont d’Orge and the bisse Siphon are two bisses running along the southern slope of the Mont d’Orge hill. Along the way you will discover a magnificent vineyard in the middle of arid vegetation. One can observe the two famous hills of Sion, Valère and Tourbillon and visit the ruins of the castle of Mont d’Orge.

  • 🔗 Link: Bisse of Mont d’Orge and bisse Siphon
  • 📍 Interest: Sion
  • 🏆 Intérêt: ⭐⭐
  • 📏 Total length: 5.34 km
  • 🏞️ Bisse length: – (Mont d’Orge) – (Siphon)
  • 🔁 Loop: ✔️
  • ⌛ Time: 120 min
  • 🏗️ Construction: ?
  • 📐 Positive altitude difference: 250 m
  • 🏔️ Min/max altitude: 785 / 581 m
  • 💧 Water Intake: Mont d’Orge Lake
  • 👁️ View: Rhône Valley, City of Sion
  • 📌 Curiosity: Mont d’Orge Castle

The course.

The path at the edge of dry stone walls.
The path at the edge of dry stone walls.

The view on the castles of Valère and Tourbillon clearly visible from the bisse de Mont d’Orge.
The view on the castles of Valère and Tourbillon clearly visible from the bisse de Mont d'Orge.

A video of the ascent of the bisse de Mont d’Orge.

Hérens region


Le district d’Hérens. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
district d'hérens

Sierre region


  1. Bisse des Miriouges
  2. Bisse du Rho

Le district de Sierre. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
district de sierre

Bisse des Miriouges


The bisse des Miriouges is a bisse in Crans-Montana. It makes it possible to take a nice walk in a forest and especially to discover a magnificent pond around which one can make grills.

  • 🔗 Link: Bisse des miriouges
  • 📍 Location: Crans-Montana
  • 🏆 Interest: ⭐⭐
  • 📏 Total length: 3.6 km
  • 🔁 Loop: ❌
  • ⌛ Time: 1 h 15 min
  • 🏗️ Construction: 14e siècle
  • 📐 Positive altitude difference: 60 m
  • 🏔️ Min/max altitude: 1332/1356 m
  • 💧 Water Intake: Icogne Lake
  • 👁️ View: Rhône Valley, Lienne Valley
  • 📌 Curiosities: Miriouges Pond, Crans-Montana chalets

The course.

The pretty Miriouges pond in which the bisse flows.
The pretty Miriouges pond in which the bisse flows.

Viewpoint over the Rhone valley.
Viewpoint over the Rhone valley.

A video on the bisse des Miriouges.

Bisse du Rho


The bisse du Rho on the heights of Crans-Montana is, together with the Torrent-Neuf bisse, the most impressive in the Valais. As with the bisse de Savièse, the bisse is not in water on the vast majority of the course and in particular along impressive cliffs.

This bisse must be reserved for a minimum age of 15 years due to the many unsecured passages close to the void. It allows you to discover beautiful landscapes on the valley of the Lienne and the wild valley of the Ertense.

  • 🔗 Bisse du Rho
  • 📍 Location: Crans-Montana
  • 🏆 Interest: ⭐⭐⭐
  • 📏 Total length: 8.5 km
  • 🔁 Loop: ❌
  • ⌛ Time: 2 h 45 min
  • 🏗️ Construction: 14e siècle
  • 📐 Positive altitude difference: 200 m
  • 🏔️ Min/max altitude: 1583/1663 m
  • 💧 Water Intake: Ertense River
  • 👁️ View: Rhône Valley, Lienne Valley, Tzeuzier Dam, Ertense Valley
  • 📌 Curiosities: Vertical rock walls, Tseuzier Dam

The course.

A trip along the cliffs.
A trip along the cliffs. Bisse du Rho

Viewpoint on the top of the Lienne valley with the Tseuzier dam.
Viewpoint on the top of the Lienne valley with the Tseuzier dam.

A video on the bisse du Rho.

Valais Bisses Museum


If you wish to obtain more information about the bisse, you should not miss to visit the Valais Bisses Museum in Botyre in the municipality of Ayent which presents in the “Maison Peinte” all the aspects related to the bisses. Outside there is a small bisse where children can play.

The “Maison Peinte” (painted house) housing the Valais Bisses Museum.
The "Maison Peinte" (painted house) housing the Valais Bisses Museum.

The little bisses outside the Valais Bisses Museum.
The little bisses outside the Valais Bisses Museum.

Bisses mapping


See the mapping of the bisses in Western Switzerland.

mapping bisses western switzerland